The Thousandth Floor

Page 83

“Actually I live on the two hundred fortieth floor,” he confessed, then glanced away, unwilling to see her reaction.

“Watt.” Something in Avery’s voice made him look up. “That stuff doesn’t matter to me. Please don’t lie to me again. Too many people lie to me as is. I thought—” She pursed her lips, frustrated. “One of the reasons I like you was that I thought you were actually honest with me.”

“I am,” Watt assured her, thinking guiltily of Nadia, and all the information she’d given him on Avery, to help his chances. But wait—had Avery just said she liked him?

“Oh no. Watt!” Avery exclaimed, blushing. “We need to go cancel your tux order!”


She blushed adorably. “Because! Don’t you want to go somewhere less expensive? Or you can rent one! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, when I suggested Norton Harcrow, that you—”

“I’m getting the tux,” Watt said firmly, and Avery fell silent. “I can buy it and I want to buy it, and mostly, I’m excited for the chance to wear it, with you. Besides,” he went on, confident again, “I’m hoping this isn’t the last gala I get to take you to.”

Avery smiled at that. “Who knows? Maybe you’re right,” she said opaquely.

“I’ll take a maybe for now.” Watt paused on the sidewalk, not wanting this to end. “In the meantime, can I buy you a coffee to thank you for helping me with my first tux?”

“There’s a place down the street that has awesome hemp milk chai. And hot coffee,” she added, catching his expression, “if you don’t like hemp milk.”

“Who wouldn’t like hemp milk?” Watt said in mock seriousness.

As he followed Avery to the coffee shop, Watt’s mind was racing, thinking over everything she had said—and everything he hadn’t.

Avery was right. She deserved more than the way he’d been treating her, pretending to be something he wasn’t, trying to tell her exactly the right thing. He wasn’t just trying to sleep with her—well, he amended, he wasn’t only trying to sleep with her—so why was he acting like it? What he really wanted was to pursue Avery. For real.

And so Watt made a decision he’d never made before. He would stop using Nadia when he and Avery were together.

See you later, Nadia, he thought, then sent the command that would power her all the way down. Quant off.

He felt the sudden emptiness like a sound, or rather a lack of sound, like the silence that echoed after a summer storm. He hadn’t turned her off since the day she was installed in his head.

“Here it is,” Avery said, pushing open the door and looking back over her shoulder at Watt. Her eyes were so startlingly blue it almost took his breath away. “I hope you’re ready for the best coffee you’ve ever tasted.”

“Oh, I’m ready,” Watt said, and followed her inside.


SATURDAY AFTERNOON, RYLIN stood outside the 50th floor entrance to Lift Maintenance, steeling herself. She could do this, she told herself. She had no other choice.

Pasting a smile on her face, she walked in the metal double doors and winked at the craggy old security guard behind the flexiglass sign-in counter. He grunted, barely looking up as she sailed past, recognizing her from all the times she’d been here with Hiral. Technically only lifties were allowed past this point, but Rylin had seen plenty of their significant others in the locker room before, delivering forgotten items or cleaning out dirty laundry.

The locker room was musty, and smelled like stale sweat and grease. Rylin walked confidently to the far side, past two guys in the corner who were stripped to the waist, playing some game on their tablets to kill time. They were the skeleton weekend crew, on call in case of emergencies. Moving quickly, she punched in the passcode to Hiral’s locker and swung the door open.

Hiral was a climber, one of the guys who actually hung from a wire in midair while the rest of the crew manned the operation from the tunnel above—a job that took courage, or maybe just blind hubris. Because of that, he had a full-length locker, in a prime location near the exit door. She pushed aside his dark gray swing suit, made of a thin but nearly impenetrable carbon-composite fiber, and his heavy-duty ecramold helmet, which supposedly could prevent brain damage from a fall of up to two hundred stories. Not often useful, given that most repairs were needed in the upper floors, where altitude and cable strain led to lift closures.

Under Hiral’s climbing boots and magnetic grip gloves, Rylin found what she was looking for: the tiny ID chip that snapped into place on his helmet.

“You shouldn’t be in here.”

She whirled around, shoving the ID chip the only place she could think of—in the crevice of her bra. “I’m sorry,” she said to the young man who stood before her, his burly arms crossed. “I’m getting some things for Hiral Karadjan.”

“The kid who got picked up for drugs?” he growled.

Kid? This guy couldn’t be more than a few years older than Hiral. But she just nodded as she said, “Yeah. I’m his girlfriend.”

“I’ve seen her here before,” the other guy called out from the corner. “Leave her alone, Nuru.”

But Nuru stood there watching as Rylin grabbed the first thing she could think of—Hiral’s high-pitched silent whistle, as if that mattered at all to him in prison—and slammed the locker shut. “Sorry. I’ll be going,” she mumbled.

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